At any given time, the Army has about 180,000 troops deployed to over 140 countries, acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday.
But when asked about the possibility of another round of base realignments and closures, before an audience at AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, the Army’s top civilian conceded that the service probably has more physical space than it needs.
“Do we have excess capacity? Absolutely,” he said. “How much? That’s debatable. Should we revisit it? I think we should.”
At a minimum, he added, the Army should do an analysis to see where it can cut some weight. But the bigger question, he said, is whether the Army’s going to need that capacity for a build-up of troops, which will be necessary if their work load continues as it has been.
“Do we have to do everything that we are doing in the world? I posed the question internally,” he said. “We have thousands of personnel deployed in over 140 countries. So that’s why the national defense strategy is so critical. This is why I don’t travel very much, because I want to be in every one of these meetings, weighing in about the stress on the Army.”
Recent trends have seen the Army growing in size to meet that demand, rather than pulling back on responsibilities. The service added 28,000 soldiers to the total force this year, and is asking Congress for another 17,000 next year.
But, McCarthy said, there are still internal discussions on whether the Army needs to be so deeply involved around the globe.
“Do we have to be in certain areas of the world anymore? How relevant is it to the national security strategy of the country?” he said. “We can do anything, but we just need more troops, if they want to keep doing that.”
Having served as a political appointee in the past three administrations, he added, McCarthy said he rarely heard conversations about the possibility of doing less.
“I’ve been pushing that dialogue internally,” he said, but his team can only tee up any recommendations for the National Security Council, who has the last word on worldwide deployments.
“Unless the dynamics change, the Army needs to be bigger,” he said. “The [boots on the ground]-to-dwell ratios are putting an enormous stress on the force, and we can’t keep doing this to our people.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.